WASHINGTON – The Senate is considering subpoenaing homeland security chief Tom Ridge to compel his testimony about President Bush's domestic security spending request, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Sunday.
Daschle said he would like the White House to drop its opposition to Ridge's appearance. A Bush spokesman expressed hope for a "satisfactory resolution" that would get lawmakers the necessary information.
"We've got to find a way to break the impasse. He's got to work with us. There is just too much at stake," said Daschle, D-S.D. "Coercion is not ever my first choice."
A subpoena "is an option, clearly," he said on CBS' Face the Nation. "We want to look at all of the options at this point. But we're hoping it is not a necessary one. We are still hoping that they will have a change of heart."
The Bush administration has said Ridge has privately briefed lawmakers but his refusal to appear before a congressional committee is the usual practice in which the president's immediate staff does not testify to Congress.
The administration wants spending on domestic security to double next year to $38 billion.
"Hopefully we will come to a satisfactory resolution of this issue that allows Congress to receive information they need while allowing the president to receive confidential advice," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
Asked whether that left the door open for Ridge to testify before Congress, he declined to comment.
"It is highly unusual to demand that a person who has no formal office other than as an adviser to the president has to come up and testify to Congress," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
"Once that starts, he will be up there spending all his time on Capitol Hill rather than doing his job," he said on CBS' Face the Nation.
But Daschle said Ridge acts with all the rights and privileges of a Cabinet officer and he should come before Congress.
Sen. Don Nickles, the No. 2 Republican leader, accused Democrats of trying to pick a fight over having Ridge testify.
"He's already indicated he's willing to meet with senators," Nickles, R-Okla., said on Fox News Sunday. "But to have him go before each individual appropriation committee and so on, I think is ridiculous."
The two top senators on the Senate Appropriations Committee wrote a letter to President Bush on Friday asking to meet to discuss Ridge's refusal to testify. They said Ridge has more power than the ordinary presidential adviser, coordinating spending by more than 80 federal agencies.
Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., went even further, suggesting in an interview Friday that the pace of Congress' work on next year's defense bill might depend, in part, on what Ridge has to say.
On subpoenaing Ridge to testify, Byrd said, "I hope it never comes to anything like that. I'm not seeking confrontation."